1st cook off 1 March 2016

It was the 1st day of autumn (not that you would have known it) and an appropriate day to kick off the 2016 cook offs, where the finalists for the Chef of the Year and the Chris Alexiou Trophies vie for the favours of members with a lunch, usually but not necessarily a remake of the meal which got them there.

The 1st round featured Bruce Thomas, with help from son Ben, and he set a pretty high standard. Canapes were fresh figs with cream cheese wrapped in a superior prosciutto, and a great, and seasonal, hit of salt and sweet; together with Bruce's trademark lightly cured salmon with sour cream on thin toasts. Both were welcome, and reasonably well matched with a 2011 Sallys Corner chardonnay from Exeter NSW (donated by Bruce) showing cool climate fruit and slightly awkward wood, perhaps needing more time. A couple of bottles of Den Mar chardonnay from the Hunter were also on offer, with lighter sweeter fruit drinking well now. Best food match was of course the Lustau fino sherry, tangy and bright.

Ignoring the seasonal problems, Bruce sourced some very good Cowra lamb to produce a beautifully done rack of lamb in a reduction jus with a boiled kestrel potato and some nicely crunchy green beans. The crust on the rack was chopped parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (memories of the '60s), and the jus was a reduction of lamb bones and aromatic vegetables enriched with mustard, garlic and anchovies and sweetened with a bit of cranberry sauce. Simple in concept and presentation, the juicy pink tenderness of the meat was the crowning feature, and complaints were few. A mixed leaf green salad was served too late to accompany the food but provided a refreshing palate cleanser. Paul Ferman matched this food with a 2008 Huntington cabernet from Mudgee, a good wine but a bit heavy for the flavours on the plate, and a 2008 Vasse Felix cabernet from WA, a more stylish wine with strong dusty cabernet characters and good drinking with the lamb.

Bruce's choice of cheese, dutifully supplied by the Cheese Master, was a Maffra cloth-bound cheddar from Gippsland in Victoria. A good cheddar, with plenty of nutty grassy flavours and bite, it was probably not up to the English standard, or to the local Pyengana, but no less enjoyable on that account and well balanced by a homemade pecan and fig paste served with it. On the wine front, we saw a 2007 Cliff Edge shiraz from the Grampians (a 2nd label for Langi Ghiran), big and fruity but well balanced and at or near its best, and a surprisingly (for some) good 2003 Macquariedale Thomas shiraz from the Hunter with the merest hint of sweaty saddle on the nose, and clean integrated fruit with soft tannins.

The coffee was strong with slight bitter notes but cleaning, a Colombian Diala bean.

Wine tasting 23 February 2016

In an early display of spring fever, our Wine Master Paul Ferman attempted, and largely succeeded in executing, a triple reverse somersault with pike by cooking (with a hand from Gary Linnane) as well as selecting the wines. We now look forward to a foodie invasion of the cellar.

To start, Paul gave us a couple of aperitifs from Tellurian, a vineyard in Heathcote, Vic. First up was a 2013 marsanne, a Rhone white grape best known here for the consistently good product from Tahbilk. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for this wine, with some good fruit overpowered by 14% alcohol and a slightly viscous consistency to yield a flavoursome but heavy wine. A rose from the same stable was better, nicely dry bur still lacking elegance. Along with the reliable Lustau fino sherry, the canapes starred, with some classy Ortiz anchovies atop a tasty but not dominant tomato relish on lightly toasted rounds, and a rich and comforting soup, made on artichokes with potato, celery, herbs and plenty of cream and butter, served warm in cups.

Before devising the meal, Paul's devious mind had concocted a test of palates, in which a few members did surprisingly well. Two whites and 5 reds (one a birthday bonus from Ross Tzannes) were presented masked, identified only as 3 French and 1 each from USA, Italy, Greece and Australia, and the hunt was on. No bread was thrown (the Iggys sourdough was too good to waste), but opinions differed although there was greater agreement on favoured wines. Once revealed, the 1st surprise was the 1st white, a 2008 riesling from Oregon in the sweeter range. Then they were, in order: 2008 Alsace Riesling (intense and the best wine on the table for many); a 2006 Pommard 1er cru (typically light and elegant, and slightly overcooked, the birthday wine); 2011 Chianti Classico (a big chianti which had some tending towards Oz); a2009 Greek blend featuring syrah amongst others (not nearly as bad as jaundiced tasters were looking for); 2006 Seppelts St Peters( disappointing for a wine of this quality, with fruit dropping out); and 2005 Ch Lanessan,(an unclassified Bordeaux which showed a degree of bottle variation according to comments from some tables, but which was very good on most). Mostly at the more restrained end of the spectrum, the reds in particular were tested against Paul's rustic French chicken casserole, featuring a sauce with heaps of herbs, bacon pieces and lots of flavour, with the chicken (on the bone) slightly overdone on some plates. A light potatoes dauphin and some still slightly crunchy sliced zucchini made up the plate.

Doubtless anticipating the main course food and the top Burgundy on offer, Ross MacDonald chose to present a Delice de Bourgogne, aptly described as "a decadent triple cream" from Burgundy; in perfect condition with an earthy inviting rind surrounding a sweet buttery paste which invoked cholesterol amnesia. Simple grapes were all that was needed to accompany, along with the wines and the aforementioned Iggy's bread.

We moved to Mexico with the coffee, a medium roast bean well described by Spencer Ferrier as well balanced in all respects. Much like the whole meal, really.

Lunch 16 February 2016

Our genial, and talented, Food Master, Nick Reynolds, was the go-to man, helped in the plating area by James Hill. Italian was the theme, and all masters rose to the occasion.

KISS was the principle for nibbles, with some chopped fresh figs wrapped in prosciutto: a good salt and sweet hit to start, followed by savoury in the form of reconstituted Nonna's meatballs, presented small and redolent with paprika and herbs. Better with the former than then latter was an aperitif 2003 Tyrrells Vat 4 HVD Semillon, lacking acid structure but quite sweet and pleasant as it was. A Lustau fino, ever-reliable, was also on offer.

The (summer) Italian theme continued with vitello tonnato, but not as most knew it. Instead of the traditional hot-boiled veal, Nick cooked his veal knuckles sous vide until on the well-done end of rare, then sliced them thin and presented them in fanned slices on the plate topped by the tuna sauce and a little caprese salad of fresh sliced tomato, mozzarella and basil. The veal was cooked in a stock with vegetables and lots of anchovy, and some of the stock was added to a rich sauce made on hard-boiled egg yolks, canned tuna and a heap of capers, the whole served cold. The meat was glowing pink and tender, and the sauce was rich and full of flavour, although some called for a bigger caper hit. Full marks for presentation, and for execution. There was an international lineup of wine to accompany, a 2013 Tellurian rose from Heathcote made on shiraz, mourvedre and nero d'avola (a red grape from Sicily), showing a dry palate with a good mix of floral and spice although served a bit too chilled. It was pretty good with the food, but most preferred a 2011 Allegrini valpolicella, with rose hints and long and soft on the palate with subtle tannin grip.

Not to be outdone, Ross MacDonald turned on an outstanding cheese, a thoroughly ripe and runny Taleggio washed rind cows' milk number from the eponymous country. The rind was coloured with red notes and showed salty and crunchy maturity without a trace of ammonia, while the oozy, nutty paste filled the mouth (and the plate). Some organic apricots and mixed salted nuts were simple and apt accompaniments; as were a brace of accompanying barbera reds: a 2010 La Zona from the King Valley in Victoria; and a 2009 Castellania Colli Tortonesi from N Italy. The local was an enjoyable wine, with full and soft fruit, but could not match the acid and tannin structure of the real thing, lively and impressive.

An Italian roast of New Guinea beans provided a full and rich coffee to finish with some typical bitterness showing through to cut the richness of the meal.

Lunch 9 February 2016

It was the second lunch for 2016, but there was none of the anticlimax which often comes with No.2. Around 40 members with a smattering of guests (including the son of a current member) were there to see Jim Tinslay and David Madson knock up some pretty impressive food, ably supported by Paul Ferman on wines, Ross MacDonald on cheese and James Hill, filling in for Spencer Ferrier, talking to the coffee.

Let's start with starters. David had experimented with a Japanese prawn mayo on crisp egg noodle baskets, but unfortunately the crispness turned to tooth-shattering hardness which tested the chewing power of the hardiest. Still, the prawn and mayo were pretty good on their own, and there was nothing wrong with some juicy chicken kebabs, Middle Eastern in influence with yoghurt and cumin. A 2002 Richmond Grove Watervale Riesling, one of the 1st produced under stelvin, showed the benefits of that closure, most bottles being developed but still fresh and intense, although some were more advanced.

The main course saw a bit of Eurasian fusion: some slow-braised pork neck covered in a sticky sweet glaze with lots of brown sugar, star anise and garlic to lend it softness and flavour. The sauce (never enough) was intense and the meat was accompanied by some unusual red cauliflower and nicely done snow peas. The wine master, not for the 1st time, went out on a limb to present a2010 Ch Musar Jeune, a blend of cinsault, syrah and cabernet from the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, and a 2007 blaufrankisch made in Austria by a winemaker from the Yarra Valley (Mac Forbes). His boldness was redeemed by the 1st wine, which showed soft developed fruit under a strong acid structure. The Austrian wine was a bit disappointing, light with some fruit in the Oz style, but no match for the food.

The Europeans took over with the cheese, to everyone's delight. Most recognised an Occelli Testun di Barolo, a distinctive semi-hard cheese made in the Piedmont region of Italy from cow and goats' milk and rolled in the must left from the making of the local Barolo wine; even if most could not name it. A great cheese with slightly crumbly texture and a fine winey grape flavour with the paste. Simple dried fruit and nuts were served with it, and I suppose a brace of wines in theme was to be expected. The 1st, a 2010 Ceretto Nebbiolo d'Alba was a lovely wine: fragrant nose which led to a nice balance of tannins and acid under some still young fruit, good with the cheese and likely to improve. The other, a 2007 SC Pannell Adelaide Hills nebbiolo, was well made by a recognised experimenter in "other" varieties; but nebbiolo is a pitiless grape and the product, while approachable now, lacked the fire and tannin of the Italian version.

Brazilian beans from Sao Paulo produced the coffee. Predominantly medium roast, there were still some burnt bitter notes which cleared the palate. Just as well, because significant birthday boy Keith Steele turned on a sip of 1956 Penfolds Grandfather port which sent everyone home happy and satisfied.

First lunch 2 February 2016

A new year, and some new ideas in the kitchen for the Society's first lunch of the year from old hand James Hill, with assistance from Gary Linnane and James Tinslay.

Seafood was (mainly) the go, starting with simple mussels in the shell poached in the liquid in which nori, or dried seaweed, had been reconstituted for the main dish. A bit of salt showed, but not too much to spoil the mussel flavour. A duck and lychee salad on porcelain spoons from Gary Linnane was the other canape, shredded duck and the eponymous fruit with fresh ginger, coriander and crushed peanuts dressed in a sauce based on hoisin. Great flavours and texture, it was a palpable hit, especially with a glass of 2000 Tyrrells Vat 1 semillon provided by Paul Ferman along with an economy champagne from Aubert & Fils, and the same old welcome old Lustau sherry, this time the manzanilla. The Vat 1had a nice grassy nose, but was starting to fade on the palate.

The Asian influence of the canapes continued into the main course: some moderately sized salmon steaks, marinated in a teriyaki sauce made on sake, mirin, soy and a bit of sugar, then baked until (for some, a trifle over-)cooked, and served topped by chopped reconstituted nori, some crunchy diced snake beans, and a well done brown rice in neat moulds with a piece of fresh seaweed salad providing a note of colour and crunch. The sauce was great, especially if you managed to get a second helping and the whole was both pretty to look at and a pleasure to eat. Ferman went out on a limb with the wines, giving us a conventional white in the form of a floral, limey and still youthfully acidic 2008 Stoney Rise riesling from Tamar Valley in Tasmania coupled with a brave rose, the 2009 Castagna Allegro from Beechworth. Made from shiraz, it was quite high in alcohol at 14% and obviously fermented right out to complete dryness, with some meaty guava notes to the nose and palate. An interesting wine: pity some minds were closed at the mention of rose.

For cheese, we welcomed back Ross MacDonald and some little Fromagers des Clarines, a washed rind cheese from the Franche-Comte region of France. They were, unfortunately, very young and quite cold, so we missed out on the full glory of the aroma and nutty sticky paste of a ripe cheese; but there was enough lactic and grass flavours present to indicate what was to come. Some fresh muscatel grapes (the best eating grapes of all) were an ideal accompaniment; closely followed by a 2009 Wairau River Pinot from Marlborough NZ and a 2003 Tyrrells Vat 9 shiraz. The pinot was a bit decorative and confectionery, but the Vat 9 showed some lovely Hunter fruit under a bit of stink, and was the wine of the day.

Spencer Ferrier spoke to the coffee, a Costa Rican medium roast bean with an attractive mix of chocolate richness and some astringent acidity. The birthday port, a Seppelts DP90 tawny from the Wine master, spoke for itself.

Welcome back, one and all.

Final lunch 8 December 2015

It was not quite the Last Supper, but a mighty multitude of 58 members and guests assembled for the last fling of the Society year.

In the kitchen was Food Master Nick Reynolds, supported by Steve Liebeskind, producing some original, and tasty, food. To start, canapes on sticks: a choice of compressed watermelon cubes decorated with a mint tapenade and warm haloumi; a spicy slice of warm chorizo sausage topped with a baby prawn; and slices of warm black pudding with salmon roe. All different and all good, especially the last. Wine Master Paul Ferman backed this up with the usual lineup of sundry aperitifs: a totally acceptable Pierre Gimonet NV champagne (with cassis on the side for those who wanted a kir royale); a clean and refreshing Salinger local fizz; a repeat of the Warramate 2012 riesling from the Yarra; and a stray bottle of Lustau sherry.

The main course was a Reynolds tour de force, with pieces of skirt steak glued together to form a roll, cooked sous vide for about 60 hours, then seared on top of the stove, sliced into cylinders and presented on a trimmed and roasted flat mushroom with Pommes Maxine, broccolini and a veal-based reduction sauce made with the lot and tasting intense and sticky. The meat was tasty, although slightly overdone and the spuds, made by arranging thin slices of potato in a disc shape held together by potato starch, did not reward the effort that went into making them. But the sauce more than compensated for any such minor defects, and all plates went back wiped clean. The accompanying reds were both of the big and bounteous style, with 14.5% alcohol: a 2002 St Halletts Blackwell shiraz from Barossa, and a 2007 Cliff Edge (the second label of Langhi Ghiran) shiraz from the Grampians in Victoria. Both showed hot fruit, although there was a touch of greenness about the Blackwell which bespoke excessive canopy on the grapes prior to picking.

Ross MacDonald did it again with the cheese, an Occelli Testun di Barolo. This is a semi-hard and matured cheese made from a mix of cows' and goats' milk in Piedmont, and distinguished by its deep red coating of dried must from Barolo wines. It showed a wonderful sweet nutty paste with a hint of winey characters from the coating. It was appropriately matched with a 2002 Damiano Barolo which exhibited bottle variation from a difficult year, but good bottles showing developed tar and roses character and obviously a great match with the cheese. As was, to a lesser extent, a 2001 Burton merlot from the Limestone Coast in SA, with impressive round tannins under fully mature fruit, ready to drink now. The cheese was simply served with dried fruit and nuts, suitably festive, and special note must be made of Nick Reynolds' home churned butter, served throughout the meal.

The coffee, from a Coffee Master trapped in court, was Spencer Ferrier's own blend of 50% Indian Devon Estate and 50% PNG beans. It came up light and soft on the palate with a pleasing clean, slightly acid, finish. A final gift from Santa Ferman was a drop of a private bin muscat made by Tim Kirk at Clonakilla and obtained by unspecified means. It was worth it, light but appropriately Xmas pudding in the glass, and the best way to farewell a pretty successful year for the Society.

The Federation of Wine and Food Societies of Australia was respresented by President Ian Hamilton who presented an  FWFSA award to Peter Kelso for longstanding and dedicated service to our society. Thank you Peter.

The staff at the Royal Exchange club were recognised by President Greg Chugg for their assitance during the year.

Mixed lunch 1 December 2015

Whether it was the drawcard of chef of the day Gary Patterson, the weather (hot) or the time of year we don't know; but a lively crowd of 42 or so members and guests were on hand to enjoy a seasonal meal. Especially welcome were 6 members of the Ladies' Wine & Food Society (in addition to those present as partners of our members), led by President Cynthia Stericker.

'Tis the season for seafood, and that's what we got, starting with pieces of sliced sashimi tuna lifted with a dab of wasabi; and superb medium Sydney rock oysters, served in the shell with a gentle ponzu dressing. A grab bag of aperitif wines was on hand, including a pretty decent Salinger sparkling, with or without a hit of cassis, a Warramate rose with more oomph than usual for the style, a good but not brilliant riesling from the same maker and a Lindemans sparkling shiraz, starting to lose its sparkle.

For mains, Gary had sourced some huge tiger prawns from the Gulf of Carpentaria and, with the assistance of Mark Bradford, presented two of them whole on each plate, grilled and juicy, with a salad of wilted spinach, snow peas, crumbled fetta cheese and walnut pieces, in which were embedded some freshly seared scallops. The task of peeling the prawns was more than rewarded by the result, and the whole presented as a light, fresh and sea-flavoured dish. With it came a couple of overseas wines: a 2010 Bramito della Sala chardonnay from Umbria and a 2010 Le Rose du Valon rose from Provence. The white was well made, with sweet fruit, minimal wood and a bite of acid on the finish to give it structure; the rose was what you would expect, with a dry light and very delicate palate which improved with food.

The cheese, introduced by Mike Staniland in the absence of the Cheese Master, showed as a well-flavoured but slightly rubbery washed rind, and was revealed as a local production, a L'Artisan Mountain Man from Timboon in Victoria. Well made, but no Taleggio or Reblochon. It was well matched by a 2009 Stonier pinot noir from Mornington, a good example of an Oz pinot with age showing good tannins on top of tight fruit with a hint of funkiness. A 2000 Coriole McLaren Vale shiraz was less successful with the cheese, although showing typical bricky fruit and colour, still holding on to its character. We also got a look at a French sticky, a 2011 Ch La Rame St Croix du Mont, which had a hint of botrytis with the sweetness of the fruit and was, as intended, a good match with the cheese.

The coffee was Spencer Ferrier's own blend of Yurgachef and Colombian medium roast beans, and combined big soft flavour in the mouth with some citric acidity on the finish. It was great to drink with a birthday Calvados, or apple brandy, supplied by James Tinslay, who was duly thanked.

Wine Tasting 24 November 2015

Our winsome Wine Master did it again, with a lineup of 6 mystery reds, 2 each from France, Italy and Australia and presented in ascending order of age: but that was all. A look at the wines showed there was no uniformity of grape , and indeed, with one honourable exception, straight varietals were out, and the emphasis was on savouriness and style rather than fruit. When revealed, the wines were: 2012 Gros Tollot La Ciaude, a syrah/carignan/grenache blend from the Minervois region of France; 2011 Uccelliera Rapace, a Tuscan blending merlot and cabernet with the traditional sangiovese; 2009 Charles Melton Nine Popes, a GSM blend from the Barossa; 2007 Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape, with a cocktail of grapes featuring Grenache, shiraz, cinsault and mourvedre; 2007 Agrinello, another Tuscan blend of sangiovese with other grapes; and 2007 Lindemans St George cabernet sauvignon from Coonawarra. With such a disparate mix of regions and grapes, it was no wonder opinions varied, but the older wines won out for most, the Chateauneuf and the St George proving the most popular, although many remarked on the uniform quality and style of the assembly.

For food, we went east in Europe to Greece, whence Chef James Hill, assisted by James Healey and Gary Linnane, provided some lovely slow-cooked lamb with herbs. But first, canapes of taramasalata on cucumber rounds, and a spicy spreadable salami on Iggy sourdough rounds under cumber, yoghurt and a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds were light and tasty accompaniments to an aperitif 2001 Tyrrells Vat1, bottled under cork and showing it, with some bottles fresh and fruity with a dash of spritz, whilst others were flat and oxidised. The alternative Lustau manzanilla sherry was reliably good.

James' lamb legs had been cut up and slow cooked in paper parcels with herbs, garlic, tomatoes, red onion and fetta cheese to produce a traditional lamb kleftiko. The parcels opened fragrant and moist on the plate, along with a luscious dish of slow-cooked courgettes, or zucchini, sliced thin and enriched with butter and olive oil, with fresh tarragon adding an offsetting aniseed note.

For the cheese, we returned to Italy, an unusual semi-hard cows' milk cheese called Millefoglie al Marzemino fron Treviso, an aged quite biting taste softened by the infusion of a local sweet red to provide a touch of raisin on the palate. Some seeded and chopped dates were a simple but effective match, along with the tasting wines.

The coffee was another blend by Spencer Ferrier, this time 50% Indian Devon Estate and 50% Colombian, yielding a mild taste with some residual citrus length on the finish. It was, to be honest, overshadowed by the highlight of the lunch, a toast in the inevitable, and highly appreciated, Inner Circle OP (76%) rum to celebrate the portentous 99th birthday of the perennial Wal Edwards. Thank you for sharing both with us, Wal.

Lunch 17 November 2015

Team Burton was in the kitchen, with Nigel Burton doing the main course and noted foodies Hilton Chapman and John Edwards (the original) the canapes. An excellent meal was the result.

To start, Hilton Chapman presented a refreshing, slightly bitter puree of green olives, artichoke and kale, enlivened with capers and a bit of anchovy, on ceramic spoons, while John Edwards came up with a smooth, slightly warm, carrot soup with ginger and a lick of sherry presented in teacups topped with chopped mint. Both a bit different, and well matched with a nicely balanced 2013 Soumah Yarra Valley chardonnay, showing good varietal fruit and a judicious use of wood. The usual Lustau sherry, this time a manzanilla which went particularly well with the soup.

Things went up a notch as Nigel Burton provided a simple but very well executed dish of smoked duck breast on porcini mushroom risotto. The breasts came ready smoked from Luvaduck and were seared then baked to pink soft perfection with minimal fat, The risotto obviously had a generous infusion of mushroom, as it showed intense earthy mushroom flavour, the richness increased by a good hit of parmesan. The cheese probably accented the stickiness of the mix, but the rice was nicely al dente and the whole a joy to eat. It was paired with a 2010 Medhurst pinot from the Yarra Valley, nicely fragrant and with good funky fruit but a bit overwhelmed by the intensity of the risotto; and a 2013 Gabaxo rioja from Spain, made on 100% Grenache and showing strong meaty fruit balanced by good tannins and a residual acidity which made it a better match with the food.

Cheese Master Ross MacDonald came up trumps with a superbly made and aged Roquefort Le Roi from France, made on unpasteurised ewe's milk and a favourite of cheese guru Will Studd. The typical creamy texture , distinctive blue mould and salty/sweet finish were all in evidence, and members raved. An eclectic choice of 2007 S C Pannell nebbiolo from Adelaide Hills and the 2002 Burton Coonawarra cabernet accompanied it. The nebbiolo, pale in colour and hard on palate, struggled with the cheese, despite being, as wine master Paul Ferman said, a top Oz example of the grape. Not so the Burton, drinking at its peak and showing rich sweet fruit with enough acid to balance.

The coffe was blended by Coffee Master Spencer Ferrier, with beans from India (Devon Estate), New Guinea and Colombia. Generous in the mouth with a bit of acid but a little short on the finish. It was blessed by a choice of 2 vintage ports from 1977, Sandeman and Graham, generously provided by Ray Healey. The Graham had more luscious fruit, but both were fine examples of this out-of-favour style and many thanks to Ray for giving them to us.

Lunch 10 November 2015

The tumult and the shouting of the Melbourne Cup died, and rookie cook David Madson, assisted by Jim Tinslay, gave us a soothing and satisfying meal to restore strained nerves and wallets. We started with rare fillet beef pieces with roasted red capsicum on toasts, and a refreshing mix of watermelon discs topped with a dollop of chevre and chopped mint, as canapes, all washed down with a selection of whites and reds from the recent Hunter gold medal lunch, plus a variable but good at its best 2002 Tyrrells Vat 4 HVD Semillon, and Lustau fino and amontillado sherries, predictably good.

For the main course, David marinated chicken breasts in a North African (Moroccan) spice rub, then baked them till still juicy and served them, sliced, on a bed of well done , slightly chewy puy lentils, cooked with diced aromatic vegetables and with wilted rocket and mint added at the last moment, under a spicy, faintly sweet, yoghurt dressing. It was inviting, with a variety of textures, but the spices didn't shine as hoped and a bit of harissa heat would have added interest. Chasing the spice, the 1st wine served was a 2012 Hugel Gewurztraminer from Alsace, an entry level wine from this maker and showing it, with a broad, somewhat viscous, palate, forward nose and plenty of quite sweet aromatic fruit. Better with the food was a soft and savoury 2011 Pithos Rosso red from Sicily, low in alcohol (12%) but with a good spine of acid to cut the richness in the food.

The healthy main course led into an artery-blocking triple cream brie-style cheese from France, Saint Angel, from the same region and in the same style as Fromage D'Affinois, and just as popular with members. A simple fruit and nut bowl of almonds and mixed dried fruits accompanied it, along with a 2012 La 50/50 wine made by a couple of top Burgundy makers in the Languedoc region of France from Rhone area grapes, chiefly cinsault, carignan and grenache. Its humble origins betrayed its quality: firm ripe fruit well integrated with subtle wood and tannins and the choice on the day of a number of members. Also on offer was a local tribute to Austria, the 2009 Hahndorf Adelaide Hills blaufrankisch, "Eastern Europe's answer to pinot noir". A somewhat inadequate answer judged by this wine, with a good nose and front palate but developing a hardness on the finish.

An unidentified coffee arranged by Spencer Ferrier was rich and full in the mouth and in the Italian style, if a bit short on the finish. The accompanying sip of Armagnac from the 1930's, a birthday treat from Roger Prior, showed no such defects, a marvellous old brandy likely to outlast most of those present.